Deputy ‘preyed on’ girl after responding to call at her house, Florida cops say

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A deputy was arrested after an investigator found that he’d been sending inappropriate text messages to a girl who was a victim in a sexual cyberharassment case, according to a Florida sheriff’s office.

The deputy, Charles Cruz, 35, was working as a patrol deputy on Feb. 19 when he responded to a call at the home where the victim lived, according to a news release from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

Deputies were called to the home for a report that someone had thrown an object through a window, the sheriff’s office said. Investigators thought that the person accused of sexually harassing the minor online may have thrown the object, according to the sheriff’s office.

Cruz began to text the girl while investigating the report of the object thrown through the window, the sheriff’s office said.

The contact “became more inappropriate,” and he asked the girl if she would meet him in person, according to the sheriff’s office.

Investigators with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office Sex Crimes Unit who were looking into the girl’s sexual cyberharassment case discovered the text exchanges with Cruz on the girl’s phone, the release says.

A detective posed as the girl and started to text back and forth with Cruz, according to the sheriff’s office.

“Cruz made sexually explicit comments to the person he believed was the minor,” the sheriff’s office said.

Cruz’s attorney, Harold Uhrig, told McClatchy News that he did not want to comment on the case while it was still going through court.

“We have defenses,” he told McClatchy News. “The case is a long way from over, and until it’s over, we probably won’t have any comment for the press other than that.”

Authorities arrested Cruz on Feb. 24, and he was charged with “soliciting a minor via computer,” the sheriff’s office said.

He was “relieved of all law enforcement duties without pay,” according to the sheriff’s office.

“These are very serious criminal allegations, and there is no place in the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for anyone that would abuse their power to victimize a minor,” Orange County Sheriff John Mina said in a statement. “To make matters worse, this deputy preyed on a young woman who was already a victim of sexual cyberharassment. As law enforcement officers, we are held to the highest standards of conduct whether on duty or off duty. He will never patrol the streets of Orange County again.”

Cruz began working with the sheriff’s office in August 2021, according to the release. The office will conduct an administrative investigation once his criminal proceedings are complete.

Orange County is in central Florida. The county seat is Orlando.

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